Also called the Silver-Backed Jackal or the Red Jackal, the Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas) can be found in two areas of Africa - in the southern portion (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) and along the eastern coastline (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia).
Studies of the fossil record indicate that the Black-backed Jackal is the oldest extant member of the genus Canis, with fossils dating as far back as the Pleistocene Epoch. It seems that while proportions differ somewhat, modern Black-backed Jackals are roughly the size of their ancestors. They can grow up to 35 inches (90 cm) in body length, with a 16-inch (40 cm) tail. The larger Jackals on the eastern coast can weigh up to 30 pound (13.8 Kg), while their smaller relatives in the south weigh only 21 pounds (9.5 Kg).
The Black-backed Jackal's bi-colored coat is striking, and males tend to be more brightly colored than females, especially during the winter. They will typically adopt dens and burrows dug by other creatures, although they have been observed to dig their own. Being omnivores, these Jackals eat invertebrates like scorpions, spiders and insects, as well as small mammals like rodents, hares and small antelopes. Jackals on the coast add some marine life to their diet, like seals, fish and mussels.
Black-backed Jackals form monogamous pairs to mate, and unlike other species of jackal, the older offspring help to raise new litters, which aids in pup survival. Female Jackals will give birth to a litter of about three to six pups after a 60-day gestation period. The pups will start to leave the safety of the den at three weeks, and are fully independent by the time they're eight months old.
Natural threats to the Black-backed Jackal are leopards, spotted hyenas, golden jackals and eagles (which will carry off pups and even sub-adults). They are not considered to be under threat from human activity, although they are targeted as a livestock predator and potential rabies vector.
The Black-backed Jackal population consists of two recognized sub-species, based on their territorial range:
- Canis mesomelas mesomelas (southern Africa)
- Canis mesomelas schmidti (eastern coastline)
The Black-backed Jackal figures prominently in the folklore of the Khoikhoi. Its archetype is a clever and intelligent trickster, which frequently outsmarts or betrays the lion archetype. One legend attributes the Jackal's coloring to a time when it offered to carry the sun on its back.